By Clement Nwankpa Jr
Unless Lobi Stars’ Anthony Okpotu reenacts Emem Eduok’s 2014 form against FC IfeanyiUba on final day, Mfon Udoh’s record 23 goals in a season is on the verge of surviving a third season.
In 2014, Emem Eduok, then donning the colours of Dolphins, scored all six goals as Dolphins beat Nembe City 6-0. That is still a league record as no other player has scored six times in an Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) game. That feat at the time took Eduok’s tally to 19. Eduok would score Dolphins consolation in a 1-3 loss to Bayelsa United the next match day to grab his 20th.
Incidentally, that same match day, Mfon Udoh grabbed a brace in Enyimba’s 2-1 away win over Nembe taking his tally to 20. At 20, both players had equaled the record at the time held by Jude Aneke. With both tied on 20 goals on match day 36, Udoh pulled away with the last two matches. He scored Enyimba’s solitary goal in the 1-1 draw with Dolphins on MD 37 before scoring twice in the 3-1 defeat of Pillars on the final day. Thus he ended the season on 23 goals, a new NPFL record.
Considering the form shown by Stephen Odey earlier this season, many thought Udoh’s record would be eclipsed. By the halfway mark, Odey had 14 goals, nine short of equaling the record while 10 would set a new record. With 19 matches to play in the second stanza, Odey was deemed capable of setting a new record.
But just like Godwin Obaje, last season, Odey’s potency reduced during the second stanza. A combination of transfer imbroglios, and national team invitations didn’t help his focus on the target. He scored just four more goals bringing his tally to 18.
While all eyes were on Odey all season, Okpotu has stole in. His goal from the spot last Sunday means he is tied with Odey on 18. With Odey’s move to FC Zurich, the coast is clear for Okpotu to emerge top scorer with another strike against FC IfeanyiUba on final day.
Everything is pointing towards Udoh’s record surviving this season unless Okpotu does an Eduok. Can ‘the Panther’ produce six goals against FCIU this weekend? That will take his tally to 24, a new record.
Interestingly, Okpotu is not new to scoring many in a game. He has scored three hat-tricks this season. So it means nine of his 18 goals have come in just three games. With the WAFU Cup fixtures shifted till Monday making the invited players available for their teams’ final day ties, FCIU defenders would face a highly ambitious Okpotu. Do they have antidotes to ‘the Panther’s’ venom? Just a goal would ensure Okpotu ends his most productive season with due recognition.
Perhaps, Odey needed extra push to reenact his killer first stanza form during the second stanza. Like last season’s top scorer, Obaje, he removed his foot from the pedal beyond the halfway mark. If he was as potent as he was in the first stanza, he should have notched 28 goals.
Ironically, Udoh scored only eight goals in the first stanza of the season in which he set the record. So with 15 goals, he was more potent in the second stanza. In fact, his first goal of that season was in the 3-0 defeat of Lobi Stars on match day eight.
Just as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi bring out the best in each other, Eduok’s form in 2014 was largely responsible for Udoh setting the new record. Eduok kept pushing Udoh all the way. Perhaps, Udoh would have slowed down by match day 35 if he had 18 goals and Eduok was still on 13. But Eduok scored six times on that day taking him to 19, one more than Udoh.
Udoh scored five in the last three games to end at 23 while Eduok scored 21 times. In fact, with both players tied at 20 goals, Dolphins engaged Enyimba on match day 37 with both players being on the score sheet. So going into the final day, both had 21 goals. Udoh’s brace on the last day gave him the edge.
So while Eduok kept firing, Udoh kept replying. Should other strikers be blamed for not pushing Odey harder? Beyond Okpotu, injured Abia Warriors’ Sunday Adetunji is on 14; Lobi’s Kingsley Eduwo, 13; Godwin Obaje (FCIU), 12; Alhassan Ibrahim (Akwa), 12; Samuel Mathias (Elkanemi), 12; Mfon Udoh (Enyimba), 12; Adamu Hassan (Nasarawa), 12; Chinedu Udechukwu (Katsina), 11.
As the saying goes, better late than never. Okpotu’s late push may not be enough to set a new record but could suffice to overtake Odey on the final day.